It’s the end of 2012, we’ve survived yet another apocalypse, and my baby daughter is a few days away from being born. Our due date is now only six days away, today is the 31st of December, and my wife hasn’t had any contractions yet, so I can probably kiss any chance of a 2012 tax-break baby bye bye. Oh well, we’re really just hoping she pops out healthy.
Since we don’t have a baby yet and my wife is off working this fine New Years’ Eve afternoon, I figured this would be a good day to grab a beer down at New Holland Brewing and run through my mental catalog of pre-baby preparedness while I still have the mental capacity of a childless adult. The crisp sense of sanity I feel now will soon fizzle out to a staticky stream of semi-consciousness as I try to raise another human being for the next eighteen years without screwing her life up beyond recognition.
So without further ado, here is what has been on my mind.
Pregnancy is a treacherous business. There are tons of unknowns and so many potential complications that it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend we’ve been doing this successfully for billions of years, since those first bacteria happened upon the notion that sharing RNA or DNA during reproduction gave their lines enough of a beneficial edge that they and their descendants kept the system going, humping each other into submission until they reproduced and evolved into my wife and I. I take a bit of pride in the fact that we’re now adding to that long, unbroken chain of movable matter. And I take pride in the fact that, unlike the majority of our predecessors, the sex was consensual and my wife’s and baby’s odds of surviving delivery are astronomically higher than at any point in our long history. Yay for science.
But it’s still a risky business. Since Jen’s introduction into nursedom, she has worked with babies. Her first four or so years were in the Neonatal ICU where she was well acquainted with a wide variety of ways that pregnancy and childbirth can go wrong, and often horribly wrong. With that background, we’ve been constantly expecting some sort of disaster with her own pregnancy, but at every turn, the doctors have been assuring us that the pregnancy is humming along just fine. One of the doctors called our pregnancy boring, but in the most polite way you can call the most momentous time of a couple’s life boring. His statement indicated that there was nothing atypical of our pregnancy, that things were progressing along smashingly and with no need for concern. It’s almost hard to believe it would be so smooth given my wife’s background as a nurse saving the lives of a countless number of premature or otherwise disturbed babies.
We’ve made it past the most risky developmental points so far, but the big day is just around the corner. It could be tonight. It could be next week, or longer. We’re about as prepared as I think we could be, but I’m sure that when it happens, I’ll feel entirely ill prepared for the task at hand. I think that’s because during the actual delivery, I’ll be reduced to the cheer leading section. That, in itself, terrifies me. I don’t think I’m a control freak, though some family and coworkers may tend to disagree - and if they do disagree, they’re wrong - but my ultimate uselessness during the delivery scares the shit out of me.
I have to be ok with surrendering not only the life of my offspring but the life of my wife to a small team of people whose job it is to pull babies out of women all day long. I don’t know about you, but I often get bored and distracted at work and don’t give it my all, especially when I’ve got to do something repetitive, and as much as I get stressed out by my job, the worst thing that’s going to happen is that a few people won’t be able to buy shoes online for a short amount of time. For someone working in the hospital, you’ve got freaking lives on your hand, day in and day out. You can’t get away with browsing Reddit while you’re supposed to be checking vitals or yanking a live baby out of somebody’s crotch. I know what it’s like to have a distracted day at work, and it scares me that the nurses and doctors are real people too who might not be all there on our delivery day. And then I remember that, this is my wife’s typical workday; she has the lives of real people in her hands on a daily basis and she has a level of focus I’ll never realize. These people know what they’re doing and the fact that they’re doing it routinely is a big plus. It will be better if I am relegated to the corner and given the tasks of cheer leading and feeding ice to my ailing wife because, in the end, I’m just a guy who programs computers and who used to get punched and kicked in the face for fun. The other folks in the room are there to do what I can’t, and I’ll have to let go and trust them to do their job.
Assuming all goes well, we’ll have a new daughter to tend to. We had another ultrasound a few weeks ago and I made them check again. Sure enough, we saw her downstairs again and she’s definitely a she. That’s cool. I was hoping for a daughter all along. Perhaps it’s the fact that I only had brothers growing up. Whatever it was, I thought having a little girl to care for would be awesome.
When my brother had a daughter several years ago, in one of my more unenlightened moments, I repeated to him a saying which I heard back in the days when I used to work on the old pickle farm: that, when you have a boy, you only have one dick to worry about, but when you have a girl, you have to worry about every dick in town. Yea, not one of my proudest moments, but back then, I was still on the edge of leaving Christianity, so you must excuse my momentary lapse into backwards and dick-waving, patriarchal thinking. It’s the community in which I was raised. Women were a second class citizen and our duty as penis-bearers was to make sure they were protected and lived a life of chastity. We were smug assholes who made them less fortunate so that we could assume the role of their care givers. It was like the Taliban except that we didn’t make the women wear full body trash bags, and beards were optional, though goatees were required.
I believe I’ve come a long way since then, and for the past year or so, I’ve been keenly attuned to the fact that we still live in a very male-dominated world which still pushes for an off-balance and puritanical society in which women are still expected to fill a different role that is lower than, and separate from that of men. And the pressure starts from a young age.
I’m finding that everything in this young girl world is plastered with Victoria’s Secret pink and laden with images of soulless Disney princesses. And this, the princess motif, is one I’m especially maddened by. We’ve already received several articles of clothing and bibs from baby showers with some variation on the theme, “Daddy’s little princess.” I take them in stride with a grateful smile, but in reality, I’m thinking, fuck that shit, and later on I secretly shrink those clothes beyond wearability in the dryer. I will not raise her as a princess nor ever think of her in that way. That’s the worst thing I could do for her. I’m not interested in raising a child whose worth is determined in any way by her outward appearance or by her adherence to some socially approved and marketed feminine behavior, nor will I encourage her to find other people to treat her as a delicate flower who needs things done for her. I will do everything I can to dissuade her from thinking that she needs to find a partner who treats her like a princess, because while those story-book romances may start off charming, they retain little of value when age sets in and plastic-surgery-princesses don’t quite meet the demands of their princely partners. I’m hoping we can give her a more grounded view of reality and of responsibility, a view of life in which she finds everything interesting and is on a constant quest to learn and experience more and to not be satisfied living a life that others want for her. A smiling princess in a solitary castle awaiting a knight, she will not be.
But of course, I’m sure she’ll play with little princess toys here and there, especially as she grows older and her friends are engulfed in the stagnant princess world. It may take her a few years to understand why dad thinks so lowly of that that worthless shell of a woman, that festering bitch, Cinderella, but I’m hoping the underlying concept will come across loud and clear: that I will love her for her and plan to raise her by encouraging who she is, not what others want her to be.
It’s an intimidating and overwhelming thing to ponder, this prospect of raising another human being. I’m going to be stumped at many a corner and looking to those with more experience more often than I realize right now. I’ve only had a few experiences where I’ve needed to discipline another living thing. One of them is ongoing and involves the constant discipline of my dog, but I hesitate to bring that sort of training to the table. We’ve got a dog with such a strong guilt complex that you would almost believe she were a Christian herself. All it takes to discipline her is a stern and disapproving look. Maybe that will help in my raising of a human puppy, but I doubt she’ll be able to subsist off of dog biscuits and pats on the head, as much as such things amuse me.
The only major extended experience I’ve had with children comes from the summer of 1997 when I graduated high school and decided my calling was to be a camp counselor at the Come-to-Jesus summer camp in mid-Michigan, Spring Hill, which serves a hefty dose of guilt-ridden fundamentalist Christianity to go along with an otherwise fun and carefree week at summer camp. I was a counselor for a summer whose main job was, first and foremost, to let kids know how super fun and exciting it was to be a slave of a lesser god, and other than that, just to get them through the day without losing one to a .22 round at the shooting range or from being trampled underneath one of the normally docile campground horses. I lost no kids to an untimely bodily death besides the mind-death of a conversion to fundamentalist Christianity, but as for the day to day business of mentoring a group of snot-nosed little punks? Holy shit was that job hard. I was a naive kid out of high school trying to act as a group of kids’ mother, father, pastor, coach, baby-sitter, teacher, big-brother, and wet-sleeping-bag changer. I didn’t know shit and had a bit of a mental breakdown a few weeks in. I managed to tough out the whole summer, but that experience firmly planted in my mind the fact that I’d probably be better suited towards a life that didn’t involve dealing with kids. At camp, they run rampant with no respect for authority or their counselor’s sanity. I’d be an idiot to believe that sort of mentality was left solely to the realm of summer camp. I realize that, as an upcoming parent, I’ve got a few cute years of cleaning piss and shit, then a few years being enamored at the rate of which they learn things, then a few short years where they still think I’m the bees’ knees, before they hit that adolescent realm where everything sucks and parents suck the hardest of all. Assuming we all make it through those crap-lousy years without strangling each other, maybe I’ll be able to count them as friends in their adult years, once they stop asking for my car and my money.
But that’s way off in the future. For now, I’ve only got the delivery of our little bundle of joy to worry about. The rest, I’m sure, will come with time. I no longer to pray to any gods, but if there are any labor and delivery staff reading this right now, know that at the end of a successful delivery, there will be a nice Costco cake in your future. I have yet to find a frosting that beats the creamy crack cocaine that Costco spreads on their cakes. If you’re able to yank that baby out of my wife safe and sound, there’s a big cake waiting for you at the other end, and if the prospect of a delicious cake isn’t motivating enough to bring our child out safe and sound, then your presence in the delivery room will only frighten me.
Come to think of it, I’m going to be cheer leading by my wife’s side the entire time we’re in the hospital. I won’t have time to pick up delicious cake and I’ll probably have to relegate that task to another extended family member. And so it begins. We’re about to enter a realm of inter-family dependence like we’ve never known. My wife and I have been happily cruising along these past few years with not a care in the world except for our dog and our still-unnamed cat. Once we have a successful humanoid spawn, I’m sure we’ll be relying on family like we haven’t since they changed our shitty diapers.
That in itself is going to take some getting used to. I value my independence, yet I know that during these first few years, we’ll be entirely dependent upon others. We live in an area where we’re no more than a half hour away from our parents and siblings, with the exception being my favorite brother who lives down in Pittsburgh. My other brother lives on the other side of Grand Rapids, but he’s only so-so. The real deal is down in Pittsburgh. We’re set on the parent/grandparent front, and they all seem to be pretty excited at the prospect of a little granddaughter to spoil. We’ll probably be dumping her little butt on them as much as we possibly can, and if you’re a family member reading this, know that there’s a Costco cake in it for you too if you play your cards right.
If you’ve read this blog before, or even if you’ve read a few paragraphs prior to this one, you know I’ve got a beef with pretty much all forms of religion. As such, I used to be concerned about how to handle the topic of religious indoctrination when it comes to my extended family’s wish to _save_ my already-sinful child. I’m not too concerned about it any more. We’ve got a wide variety of beliefs in our local community of family. That is, it’s a wide variety of Protestant beliefs. It’s awesome, we’ve got mega-hipster-church goers, fundamentalist anti-gay members, a dozen different views on baptism hullabaloo, a whole slew of monotone Lutherans varying from quite liberal to down and dirty, chant-till-you-drop bell-ringers, and we’ve even got a guy dedicated to re-translating the New Testament by himself because no one has gotten it quite right before him. Outside our family, I’ve heard the neighbor kids arguing about the nature of their god and threatening the kid across the street with eternal damnation and hell-fire. And then there’s a couple atheists in my family like yours truly. Like I said, I used to worry about religious indoctrination because I have no doubt that many family members will want to save my damned kids from the fires of hell. Now I’m thinking they’re only going to shoot themselves in the foot. When you’ve got that many variations on a lousy theme, the kid’s going to quickly realize it’s all a bunch of made-up claptrap anyway. She’ll get little pressure from me except that I want her to talk to people about what they believe to hear it from their own lips.
The way I see it, I want to confuse the hell out of the girl. I want her to ask all sorts of people all sorts of questions. Confusion leads to pondering, which leads to a deeper understanding and much deeper experience than she would have gotten going to a fucking church and buying into the don’t-question-anything mantra they sell.
There will probably be a number of times where I’ve got a tendency to be a bit uptight about things, as much as I try to act like a cool parent. It’s our first child, so that much is inevitable. If we have a second, which is kind of the plan - two is a good number - we’ll probably be much more relaxed with that kid. So, if you’re that kid and you’re reading through you dad’s old blog posts, just know that you got off light compared to your older sister. It’s not that we intended to raise you differently, it’s just how things go. Take, for example, a few of the tables seated around me. One of them is a pair of couples with one infant in a child’s seat, and another table has a toddler that keeps wandering off around the bar. A waiter was setting down a few cocktails at the table near me with the infant seated at the table, the kid reached over and jostled the martini glass enough to spill a few drops and the parents more or less flipped out. And then, there’s the other family whose kid is just wandering around the bar looking at walls and tables while the parents keep an eye out for the child, only interfering with the exploration once the child has wandered into the next room and out of eyesight. I totally want to be a parent like the latter. If a kid reaches across the table and bumps a glass enough that some booze spills onto the little tyke’s arm, so what? It’s no reason to flip out and berate the waiter. It’s your fucking kid. Loosen up. Let them explore and make a few mistakes.
So if all goes well, our lovely daughter will be graduating from high school in eighteen years. If you’re keeping count, that would put her in the Class of 2031, give or take a year. And since we’ve had good luck with apocalypses so far these last few years, I’ll mention another that falls around the time of my daughters’ junior and senior year. The asteroid Apophis was, until recently, thought to have a good chance of hitting the earth in 2029. It is now better understood and poses less of a threat, but there is a very minor chance that it will pass through a certain point in space that will send it on a path to impact earth in 2036. It’s good to know we still have a number of ways for the world to end. By that time, my job as a parent will be mostly over and I can go retire in the Florida Keys to wait for the world to end. Here’s hoping we make it through a few more ends of the world. I’d kind of like to see what this parenting thing is all about.